A Note from Jess ;-) Four years of experience makes all the difference

This column first appeared in the January 26, 2012 issue of the Setonian. It is the first of my “how-to-be-awesome” monthly column.

“You do too much.” These are the words that have plagued me since before college. Friends, co-workers, teachers, coaches–even my parents have tried to get me to take a break from at least one of my many endeavors because they thought I was spreading myself too thin. Then, and even now, I beg to differ.

I’m not going to say that I never took on more than I could handle, but I’ve always managed to sort out my priorities well enough to succeed in each and every thing that I do. There were definitely times when I did too much but fate always found a way to warn me…like when I managed to wreck not one but two vehicles over the span of four days during my first semester of college. That was a learning experience. If you really do too much, something has to give. At the time, I put working part-time on hiatus until breaks between the semester and breaks between seasons. Later, I traded my status as an athlete for some much-needed freedom to pursue additional resume building projects.

I’ve learned a lot in these four years, and I’m happy to share all of the secrets to my success…or at least, the majority of them 🙂

Prioritize your tasks and obligations. For much of my college career, I have scheduled my days practically down to the minute to allow myself ample time to complete all of my assignments and readings for classes.

Sleep is more important than writing a paper or studying for an exam. In 2010, NPR published an article outlining the benefits to having at least 10 hours of sleep per night. They summarized a study performed by Stanford University which showed not only an improvement for scholarly athletes’ grades but also an improvement in skills on the playing field.

I rarely had the opportunity to sleep for 10 hours, but I did my best to get at least seven. The philosophy behind my reasoning is simple: if I’m tired, I won’t feel like doing the work, so I’ll continue to put it off until I eventually give up and then I’ll have to wake up early to finish the paper anyway. So, rather than waste valuable sleep time, I plan to go to bed a little earlier so I can wake up refreshed and pound out the rest of the paper. Besides, I work better under pressure.

Work ahead when you get the chance. I know this doesn’t always work out because the last thing anyone wants to do when they have a homework-free day is more homework, but it really does help. Even if you’re just ahead in a single class, the workload will be incredibly lighter.

Enroll in a J-term or eight-week course. Even though they are technically viewed as more intensive courses, they lighten your semester significantly. In the spring semester of my sophomore year, I took two J-term courses and only had to worry about eight credits by the end of February, which worked out great with my busy sports schedule. Yes, it wasn’t “fun” starting school on January 1 rather than three weeks later with all my friends, but it was definitely worth it during finals week.

Use your time between classes efficiently–even if you’re just using it to take a much-needed nap. I don’t care how old you are, everyone could use a good nap now and again, especially when you feel overwhelmed or exhausted. Sometimes an extra hour of shut eye can make all the difference in your efforts to study for a big exam.

Unplug from the world when your studying or writing. I don’t care what you’re studying, in most cases, you don’t need Internet access to do it. I once took my laptop outside into my backyard to write an essay for my theology course because Facebook and StumbleUpon were just too tempting. That essay made the difference in getting an A- rather than a B- like I’d been fearing, and I owe it mostly to my discipline to eliminate distractions. Cutting out most of my technology also helped me to speed up the writing process significantly. In the past four years, multiple news reports have suggested that Facebook is often responsible for lower grades in college. Technically, it’s the undisciplined student who can’t prioritize, but still. This Lent, try giving up Facebook or Twitter to see what you can accomplish. You don’t have to be Catholic. It might be fun to see how much more productive you become!

Probably the most important suggestion or tip that I have is to save time to have some fun, whether it’s just hanging out with friends during a movie night or it’s going out for a night on the town. You deserve it! Just try not to go overboard. You’re in college to learn, not to party and flunk out, so make the most of your money and time. And remember…only you can determine if you really do too much.

New Year, New Me

2012, New & Improved

Here's a silly group of photos of me with my new haircut and my new shades. I'm all sophisticated now 🙂

So I’ve never been very good at keeping up with my new year’s resolutions, but I figured 2012 would be the perfect year to start—a lot is going to change for me this spring whether I’m ready for it or not.

In May, I’ll be graduating with a New Media Journalism degree and then what? I’ll continue working at my internship for the summer but at some point, I’m going to have to find a real job. So, in an effort to prepare myself for the search, I’m going to do my best to follow through with my short and modest list of resolutions. I doubt I’ll keep all of them but if I can hold on to one or two, it’s going to be a great start to the rest of my life 🙂

  1. Overcome procrastination. I’m not saying I never get anything done, but I feel like my life would be a lot easier if I learned a bit of time management skills
  2. Write everyday, whether its a blog entry (hopefully) or just something small, I need to keep my writing sharp because it’s my ticket to success in the real world.
  3. Attend Church regularly. I’m already part-way there with this one since I now attend services with M and his family almost every Sunday.
  4. Join a gym and work out at least 4 times a day. This one’s in progress…well, sort of. Mom and I are supposed to join an athletic club here shortly but life keeps happening and getting in the way.
  5. Get published as a freelancer. This one’s a bold resolution, but I should be able to do it by summer.
  6. Travel a bit. I never had the opportunity to travel aside from golf trips while in college, and when I have traveled, it’s always been with my parents. This year, I hope to spread my wings and maybe plan a short trip either by myself or with a few friends. Nothing major, but I definitely need this sort of growing experience.
  7. Go sky-diving. You only live once. I’m slightly terrified by this one but you never know if you love something until you try it.
  8. Use social media properly. This includes deleting my Facebook and publishing the bulk of my photos to Flickr rather than Facebook.
  9. Talk to my extended family more. When we were growing up, my cousins and I were pretty close but we rarely talk now. This is a welcome change I’d like to see.
  10. Volunteer more often. There are a lot of needy people out there and I love helping people so why shouldn’t I extend my support?

I’ll probably add to this list as the time goes on, but for now, I think I’m off to a healthy start.